By Sarah White
Jimmy thumbed loose the little knurled knob at the end of the handle, then fitted a fresh double-sided blade into the business end of his father’s razor. Through my hot tears I watched this action, so domestic but so unfamiliar. I had only ever shaved my legs with plastic disposable razors, and for years, not even that. But his hands were so practiced as he prepared the razor, then swirled his badger-tail brush around the cake of soft soap in his little wooden dish, that I began to believe I would survive.
I don’t quite remember what behooved me to choose to remove my luxuriant curly golden leg hair—probably something to do with dressing for a job. I changed jobs frequently in the early 1980s, when I was in my mid 20s (when this story takes place).
I lived with seven roommates and their various lovers in a three-story housing co-op on Brearly Street. One of the lovers was Dorcas, a charismatic Southern woman who expressed her sense of style with vintage dresses and hand-sewn “glad rags.” When I announced one evening that I planned to shave my legs, she leaped in like the fashion-savvy gal pal she was. “Oh honey, don’t do that! It comes back as stubble so fast. You should wax your legs!” I’d never heard of leg waxing, but she described it as a method that would give me silky-smooth legs that rarely required intervention.
I went to the drug store, bought the waxing kit, and read the directions. That evening I boiled a pan of water, melted the wax squares in it, and carried my pan of soft wax to the bathroom on the second floor, the one with the bathtub so long we always bathed in pairs. There I spread the warm goo on my skin with an over-sized popsicle stick. So far, so good. Then came the next step—press a fabric strip into the warm wax, and with a motion like removing a Band-Aid, separate a swath of hair from the leg.
Oh my lord! Searing pain! “Dorcas!” I cried out. “This isn’t working!” But Dorcas wasn’t around. But Jimmy was, my roommate who I was casually sleeping with while sorting out whether he’d be a better boyfriend than Ken.
Jimmy came to see what I was screaming about, took in the mess adhered to my legs and the tears falling from my clenched face, and called Dorcas. She explained that she’d never tried waxing legs that were “au naturél”—she only used it to maintain a surface already nearly hairless.
I was out of my mind with terror at the realization that I now had wax embedded in my leg fur from thigh to ankle. The only way out was through, but I didn’t have the fortitude to take another stab at brutally ripping the hair from my leg. I was literally an animal caught by the leg in a trap.
And then Jimmy brought out his razor and shaving soap, and set about rescuing me. Inch by inch, sitting together in that seven-foot bathtub, he gently shaved first one of my legs, then the other. His hands were warm and gentle. His manner was just as soft. Like a veterinarian quieting a frightened animal, he brought me to stillness, then pleasure even, as he soaped and softened and stroked and scraped the mess from my skin. I felt completely safe in his care.
He didn’t know it that evening and neither did I, but that was the moment Jimmy pulled ahead of Ken in the race for my affection. Decades later, when I look at my grouch on the couch and wonder at his unwillingness to suffer fools, I think back to that moment when he rescued me from my foolishness.
– Sarah White